On an impulse in May 2007 I decided to see how a local Pagan group did things. I wasn’t quite sure why, other than the fact that I have an avid interest in any subculture. I’ve always found it quite interesting that Paganism, which is in itself a collective term for all ancient religions, exists in modern life still; growing and evolving from the forgotten past to modern day, celebrating nature alongside concrete buildings and road-signs.
So what does it mean to be a modern day Pagan? Well, that would take years to find out, so my main aim was to find out what it meant to a specific small group. I arranged to meet for a ‘moot’, a gathering to hold rituals.
We entered the pub feeling a bit conspicuous; I had realised that I had chosen today to dress like a fortune-teller. We noticed a small group of people out the back. “That’s them,” nudged my friend Steve. I turned to see them looking our way; four people, two men and two women. I suddenly felt very nervous.
The first thing I noticed about everybody was that they were roughly early to mid-twenties. One girl had a blue nose stud but otherwise her clothes wouldn’t mark her out from the average crowd. Two young men were sitting on comfy seats, both with long hair. They were burly outdoor types, not the pasty thin Goth kids I had been expecting. In the seat next to me was a young girl with thick, wavy black hair and a lip ring. Her clothes were the most archetypal Pagan, that is to say floaty, and I liked it.
We were given leaflets with brief explanations on the basic beliefs of Paganism, and what seemed like beginner’s questions and answers, the most obvious being “What is a witch?” The answer given here is: “A witch is a follower of witchcraft or Wicca. Today the words…are interchangeable. S/he is essentially Pagan, worshipping the deity force of the universe personified usually as a God and a Goddess. Witchcraft can be described as one of the priesthoods of Paganism and, as such, Wiccans are also known as priests and priestesses.” The leaflet talked of Covens, and how they were close-knit groups of Pagans.
More arrived, including a woman who kept phoning her children’s babysitter and a shaven headed man in his early thirties. We were waiting for someone who would lead a ritual. Apparently he preferred to perform them in the woods but this particular coven liked to relax with a few pints.
As I asked the girl next to me some questions. She was very open about her religion and her workmates weren’t unfriendly to her because of it. It was “mostly making fun in a friendly way”. The other girl however admitted she had experienced some bullying from workmates.
After a while, the man who was leading the ritual arrived. By this point I was itching to see exactly what we would be doing. He was quite a tall, broad-shouldered man, also with longish black hair. We all headed out to the beer garden.
It was deserted, and would have been very dark but for the windows shining and the full moon overhead. Unsure of what to expect, I took the hands that were offered me as everyone linked to form a circle around a large white table. We were instructed by the ritual leader to take deep breaths, and close our eyes. We praised the traditional four areas of nature, earth, air, fire and water. With each one I heard a match being struck and a candle being lit. The general atmosphere was very calm.
As we opened our eyes, one of the boys said: “Now we can all start cutting ourselves” to laughter and chastisement from the others. The solemnity broke, and as part of the monthly ritual a fight between two Pagan figures was re-enacted, albeit very stiffly, by the two boys who had been there from the beginning. “Put some more effort in, “I called, “It looks like a computer game.”
Back inside the pub it became once again like any other social outing. From what I could gather this particular coven was, like other groups, a comfort and something that offered a sense of belonging and acceptance. We all look for this in one way or another be it religion, the WI or simply a group of friends.